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"Becoming", book list, Carol Decker, childhood memories, Delia Owens, Educated, letters from World War 2, living in my childhood home, Marie Condo, Michelle Obama, moon and venus, Mt. St. Helens, picking apples, setting intentions, sunrises, Tara Westover, the greatest generation, Three of Earth Farm, Unshattered, Where the Crawdads Sing
The two old apple trees on my property are difficult to harvest—growing on the side of a lumpy hill. Six fall off the tree and bounce down into the underbrush for every one that lands in my apple picker basket. They need to be pruned, but the same lumpy hillside makes that task difficult too.
I don’t know when they were planted. I only know the family lore, that they weren’t planted years sooner because, my father said, “if I’d done it ten years ago there would be apples now.” But finally he planted them anyway and they provided applesauce to my mother for decades.
When I started keeping a list of books I have read or listened to, I almost took a page from the apple tree playbook. I had read so many books in my life—going back to the Boxcar Children and Island of the Blue Dolphins, and the other many pages of words that filled my childhood—and didn’t keep a list, what was the point in starting so late in the game? It will never be complete, I reasoned. But choosing not to get sucked into the apple tree vortex, start I did. Nineteen years later, there are 905 books on my list; evidence that I am a reader. It’s never too late to start a thing.
Four of the last few books on my list are color-coded “favorites.” It’s been a bumper couple of months. For the record, the four are Educated, a memoir by Tara Westover of growing up with hard-scrabble fundamentalist parents who didn’t want her to become anything, but she did in spite of them; Becoming, Michelle Obama’s memoir of growing up poor with parents who taught her to reach for the stars, and she did because of them; Where the Crawdads Sing, a novel by Delia Owens about a girl abandoned by her parents who raises and educates herself; and an inspiring memoir, Unshattered: Overcoming Tragedy and Choosing a Beautiful Life by Carol Decker, who left the hospital months after giving birth to her second child, blind and with three amputated limbs due to sepsis, and learns to appreciate what she has rather than grieve what she lost.
It was sheer coincidence that the last books of 2018 and the first ones of 2019 have been about resilience and strength to do a new thing. Now I’m left to figure out what I’m to take from that.
I’ve been reading my aunt’s letters home from her years as a nurse in the European theater during WWII. As I was when I read those my parents wrote to each other, I’m anguished that I never knew to engage in conversation with her about her life before I knew her. I am knowing her now, through the letters, and I’m grateful they exist. Like my mother during those years when she was making a life on her own, my aunt’s independence and sense of adventure back then doesn’t match the person I knew and loved. It’s like reading about someone else. Who were these fierce women?
I want all of them back. I have questions. I want the stories I wasn’t told. I want to know the mother—known only to me as an old woman—who inspired my aunt and father and lived so deeply in their hearts, the love and admiration and concern and gratitude flowing from their pens onto paper that took weeks to reach her. I want to know my mother’s mother, whom my mother came to appreciate only in hindsight. Two daughters raised so differently, yet—like Tara and Michelle—with much the same outcome.
I want back the years when they were here. But we don’t get years back.
I made a list on the last day of the old year of my accomplishments in 2018. In the face of all that begs to be done in a year’s time, of intentions set and not realized, it feels important to dwell on what did happen. I keep it in my desk drawer and pull it out when I feel overwhelmed by the present to remind myself that much is accomplished, even when much stays on the to-do list.
On my current list, before the winter cold and wet turns to sun and warmth, is preparing the upper floor of the house my parents built for new floors. It’s more than just moving furniture out and finding a place to put it for a week (I’ve not yet figured out how I’m going to manage those tasks), but painting rooms and closets and cleaning out the last vestiges of my parents’ 55-year occupation.
I will hold things in my hands and, if I don’t love them, thank them for their service, acknowledge the beloveds who left them languishing in the top shelves of closets, and send them to a new home. (In most cases, the new home is the bloated, constipated storage room downstairs. Cleaning out that room is another task, when my sisters want to give up some of their lives to help me. Right now I just keep the door firmly closed.)
Yesterday I filled two boxes with items from the shelves of the kitchen broom closet so I could put clean color to the marred formerly white walls and shelves. I think I will not add the three yard sticks to the box of yard sticks in the storage room, printed with the names of hardware stores and flooring businesses; they feel like kindling to me. I will hold each of the other items in my hands and carefully choose what goes back in. I will return to the broom closet the tiny cabinet I loved in my childhood that was relegated to the basement at some point—still full of odd tiny things.
When I feel snowed under by the tasks—clearing trails, finding someone to prune the apple trees, cleaning out a closet, reading wartime letters, revising my memoir, starting a new writing project, planning for my upcoming writing circle, moving toward the next phase of my business venture, a new website, picking up my ukulele, going on an adventure, or sitting still and reading a book—I will remember not to look too far ahead. The sunrise over the valley reminds me that every dawn is the beginning of a new day, the one day I have. Whatever I do in it is enough.
When I get to longing for the missing generation of my family, I look at these letters; hold the stuff in this house in my hands; feel my parents’ love for me, my sisters, and each other; offer gratitude; and write about all of it. They are here with me and in me. Their time is past—a long time in the case of the four women and two of my other aunts, with a median age of 97 years—but mine is right here, right now.
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An acrostic poem for the new year.
H opeful is the way I am choosing to begin this new year. It’s so much lighter than despair.
A new year is a good place to take a break to look to the future, to set goals and intentions, to peek around corners.
P erhaps there are frightening things there, monsters in the closet and such,
P erhaps, though, the monsters are really just wanting to be friends.
Y ou get to decide, I get to decide, we each get to choose how we see the world, how we see ourselves.
N ew year’s eve I sat in candle light, wrote down what I wanted to let go of, and burned it in the fire place. Bye, bye “not good enough.”
E ven as I did it the words “you are an imposter” lurked in my head.
W hat I said was, “Go away. You get in the way of wonder and wow and I don’t want you here.”
Y ou never know what’s going to present itself in coming days and months, you just meet it head on.
E very dawn is a new opportunity to turn your world on its ear.
A m I good enough? Yes, I am! Go on,
R abble rouse in your own life. Dream big. Then go for it!
#ilovewhereilive, #ThreeofEarthFarm, big leaf maple, living in my childhood home, neighbors, Notes from Three of Earth Farm, remembering mother, reminiscing, Seminary Hill Natural Area, Three of Earth Farm, walking in the woods
I’ve been thinking for some time it’s been too long since I saw my neighbor and one of these days I needed to go knock on his door with muffins or homemade soup. At 91, he has had some heart health issues this fall. I’ve been concerned, I check in with his daughter now and then, but I’ve not rung his doorbell for a while. You know how it is, best intentions.
I’ve been thinking for some time it’s been too long since I walked in the woods. How many times have I promised myself to get in there at least once a week? You know how it is, best intentions.
After Thanksgiving weekend with the Littles and their moms here at Three of Earth Farm, I didn’t go to Seattle for my weekly 30 hour gig away from home―including five hours driving time―and by Tuesday it already felt like I had an expanse of time not usually available. When the rain stopped and the sun unexpectedly came out, I went out in my orange rain boots to check on the supply of firewood left to lie in the woods near the house when the man I hired to cut and split a fallen tree just stopped working on it.
After seeing there is indeed still a lot of wood scattered about that’s small enough for burning if I pull it out from under branches and blackberry vines and wheelbarrow it down the trail to the rack where the supply is rapidly diminishing, I spontaneously head across the meadow to the trail by the barn to walk in my mother’s playground. She didn’t hike in the mountains like I do, but hour for hour, she spent far more time on the trail than I.
Reaching the main trail, I see Robert coming toward me. He has walked the trails most every day for years, but for the past several months I was thinking he wasn’t able to. I’m ecstatic to see him out and about again. His dog Gracie trots down the trail toward me. I’m not a dog lover, but I am very fond of Gracie. I put my arms around her broad neck and pull her in close; then give Robert a hug when he reaches us.
We stand on the trail and talk. I have no where else to be and nothing else I need to be doing that is more important than this. Robert had emailed me a month or two ago that he had discovered an apple tree on the trail he’d never noticed before; spotted it because it bore a single apple. I haven’t figured out where it is and I ask him now. Turns out we are standing under it. It’s spindly and unformed, imitating the miles of vine maple in these woods. No wonder no one noticed it. It’s near where there were remnants of a rotting ancient puncheon road when I was a child, the boards that kept the wagon wheels from sinking into mud on alleged cattle drives through here, returned to soil now.
Robert muses that a wagon driver—or maybe a child sitting on the back, legs dangling—threw an apple core out and a seed took hold. The single apple was good, he says, maybe a Gravenstein.
We go on to reminisce about our former neighbors. The Holits were a German couple, still with thick accents even after decades in the States. I told Robert I remembered making fudge with Margaret at Christmas, standing on a stool in front of her stove stirring the bubbling chocolate. When their house was cleaned out, after they moved to California to live near their son, I happened to be home and acquired the spoon we used to stir the fudge, it’s end worn down from years of scraping the bottom of the hot pot. He tells me, when the home sat empty for a time, he found a box of silverware overlooked on top of a beam in the basement; and later a box of sample awards ribbons from, presumably, Gene’s father’s family business in Germany before WWI in a dark corner, and something (I’ve forgotten what) with the Kaiser’s picture on it.
Robert remembers helping Gene cross the steeply sloping road to get his mail out of the box. Paying it forward, as it turns out, he says, as now the Holit’s niece, who raised her children in her aunt and uncle’s house, brings Robert his mail. (I really need to get my newly purchased mailbox painted and back in its rightful place between theirs.) We’re silent for a moment then, remembering times and people who are gone.
He tells me another maple tree fell recently behind his house. These damp woods that were my childhood playground are so old. The big leaf maples are nearing the end of their long lives, their grey crowns broken and leafless. They are host to mosses and licorice fern, adding to the rain forest feel of these woods. Lichen clings to everything, making the forest look like a host of hoary old men.
I go on to Staebler Point, and Robert and Gracie continue their trek home. I turn back toward the house as the clouds drop into the trees, rendering the forest mysterious and a little spooky in the mist. As I walk back through the now empty arching vine maples where we had stood talking, I realize that, like my mother and father and the Holits and Robert’s wife Sandy, someday Robert will no longer grace these woods with his presence. Like the maples, we all come to the end.
I’m hanging up my coat as the earlier rains return, pouring onto the roof I need to clean off again. Just a pocket of time, snatched for a rendezvous in the woods with a neighbor. I vow—again—to stop by more often, and hope I run into Robert and Gracie.
I found this poem when I Googled big leaf maple (acer macrophyllum). Overlooking the exclusive language, it seems a serendipitous find.
A tree is known by its fruit; a man by his deeds.
A good deed is never lost; he who sows courtesy
reaps friendship, and he who plants kindness gathers love.
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Putting the “Modern” Back in “Mid-century,” and other tales.
With my sisters’ blessing and my oversight (and work), changes are coming to the house we grew up in from its construction in 1960. My parents took out a $50,000 loan from my father’s brother to build the house. Presumably there was money from the sale of the house we lived in on the south bay of Puget Sound in Olympia, but the loan is all I know for sure. We called it “the house that Donald’s jack built,” and he came from Michigan for the celebration when the loan was paid off not too many years later. The times they have changed.
The house has gotten tired in the almost six decades since then. My mom wasn’t crazy about change, and she couldn’t see—or didn’t notice—the dinge, so nothing much happened after my dad died in 1995. The kitchen got an update a few years ago when the pipe under the sink burst and Rebecca was in charge of repairs. Somehow she talked our mom into new counter tops and color on the yellow walls, along with the floor that had to be replaced.
I repainted the master bedroom some months ago, but over the past several weeks, some major work has been happening in the ceiling. The four skylights in the kitchen and hall have been opened up from the drop ceiling to reveal the sky, removing the cracked and stained opaque plexiglass panels that have covered them for 58 years (some having been replaced by even cheaper material in the “they don’t make it like they used to” vein). Matching cracked and duct-taped panels also covered florescent lights in the kitchen where there was no skylight and have been closed in and recessed lighting installed.
And the florescent lights in the bathroom are gone, gone, gone. A new and smaller glass panel now filters the natural light there, where a support beam bisects the skylight making opening it up untenable. I found my dad’s notes up there, penciled onto a “tubafore” when he changed the bulbs so he could monitor their promised guarantee, dating from 1966. I’ve painted the bathroom (no more lavender) to go with the new bathroom floor (an earlier project) and replaced hardware on the bathroom cabinets. Next up is major work on the outdated leaky tub and shower fixtures. Alas, I think the pink tile will have to go.
As soon as the messy part of the project was complete, I was there with my paint roller covering the dirty beige walls in the hall, additionally dinged by my mother’s walker the last few months she lived in the house. The floors and trim are next! Huge thanks to H&S Custom Interiors, who are the absolute best, always willingly (or they fake it well) doing additional little tasks for me. You know, as long as they’re here. I love this small town family of independent business owners I have fallen into.
In other news, the garden has been put to bed, leaving the mole-destroyed brick walk and gate and fence repairs for spring. I picked (and ate) the last of the chard last night. Or maybe not, that stuff has staying power.
In the occasional serendipity of operating an Airbnb (Three of Earth Farm, Centralia, Washington) last week my guest came to my door to meet me and asked if I knew who he was. No. He hadn’t known who I was either when he made the reservation—Airbnb doesn’t reveal the last names of hosts. He lives in California, but grew up in Centralia, his family and mine attending the same church. He was in town for the memorial service of his brother-in-law; whom, it turns out, was the retired owner of the mechanic shop (Ernie’s Rapid Lube) I take my car to. A beautiful person who created a great business; one that made my transition back to my hometown with an elderly car a bit easier, I was planning to (and did) attend the service as well. I was unaware of the connection between the two families. Small world.
The Women’s Writing Circle series I facilitated this autumn—in the midst of the renovations, which are being completed today as I write this—met for the final session yesterday. As my 60-year-childhood home was exploring new life, we nine women explored some of the themes of our past lives and looked to whatever is still to come. Writing, reading, laughing, crying. They all want to come back for another series. I am bursting with gratitude for these beautiful women and our extraordinary stories.
And this morning the sky danced.
And now I’ve got to either get back to the garden or make muffins for tonight’s guests. Or both.
I can’t even say how much I wanted it to be raining today when I got home from yoga. I’m about to be gone for the better part of three weeks, and, after mostly putting off yard work for the past month (or three), there are things that need to be done. I don’t want to do them.
Like my garden. It’s a train wreck. And it will stay that way for now.
Like putting away the hoses that I did at least gather up a week or three ago and left semi-coiled in the wheelbarrow that I need to clean out aforementioned train wreck. I needed a new place for the hoses because I need to clean out the shed where they sprawl on the floor all winter like so many vipers in takeover mode. I despise hoses. Can they not make one that ordinary humans can wind into a factory coil?And then there are the two I can’t get apart.
And maybe someday I will finish getting the 55-year-old junk out from under the shed. Though to be fair to myself, there is far less driftwood, beach rocks, and sea shells than there once was.
But what about the pot of Mt. St. Helens’ ash? Why oh why oh?
Like clean the skylights that the yet-to-be-finished house renovation has opened up. Whoa! That’s an improvement. I can see clearly now.
But once on the roof, of course, I noticed it needed to be cleaned off. Again. There are seven downspouts that get blocked. A couple of weeks ago—or three—it was maple tree debris; now the shedding fir trees. The fallout lines nearly the entire perimeter of the roof, leaving standing water along same when it rains. And surely it will. Rain. Again. Someday.
The good news is between the monthly roof cleaning and frequent hiking in high places, I have conquered my aeroachrophobia.
Like turn off the sprinkler system for winter. I found one of the shutoff valves buried under eight inches of dirt that had to be dug out, thanks to the friggin’ mole. There’s a hole in the side at the bottom. I put in some plastic mesh in hopes that next spring it won’t be filled up again.
Four jobs done. Not even a rain drop in the proverbial bucket. It’s too much. I want someone else to do it. I miss my dad. I don’t know how he did it all.
In more interesting news, the women’s legacy writing series I am facilitating started this week. It was great! This is what I want to be doing at Three of Earth Farm. I want it to be a retreat center. But if someone doesn’t prune trees and rebuild rotting steps and take care of the gardens and clean out 58 years worth of s*** , it’s not going to happen. And right now that someone is me. And I’m too old.
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